Plot (narrative)

Plot (narrative)

Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, or by coincidence. One is generally interested in how well this pattern of events accomplishes some artistic or emotional effect. An intricate, complicated plot is called an imbroglio, but even the simplest statements of plot may include multiple inferences, as in traditional ballads.[citation needed]


Aristotle on plot

In his Poetics, Aristotle considered plot ("mythos") the most important element of drama—more important than character, for example. A plot must have, Aristotle says, a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the events of the plot must causally relate to one another as being either necessary, or probable.

Of the utmost importance to Aristotle is the plot's ability to arouse emotion in the psyche of the audience. In tragedy, the appropriate emotions are fear and pity, emotions which he considers in his Rhetoric. (Aristotle's work on comedy has not survived.)

For Aristotle, a plot has two main parts: it tells no change in fortune that happens to a character. The only kinds of change, he says, are from good fortune to bad, or bad to good. The types of character are the morally excellent person, the average person, and the bad person. Aristotle only discusses four of the six possible combinations as being relevant to tragedy, and he ranks these according to their ability to arouse fear and pity. The most tragic is the plot of a morally average character who goes from good fortune to bad because of a miscalculation or error (Hamartia; also translated as ("tragic flaw").

Aristotle goes on to consider whether the tragic character suffers (pathos), and whether the tragic character commit the error with knowledge of what he is doing. He illustrates this with the question of a tragic character who is about to kill someone in his family.

The worst situation [artistically] is when the personage is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. It is odious and also (through the absence of suffering) untragic; hence it is that no one is made to act thus except in some few instances, e.g. Haemon and Creon in Antigone. Next after this comes the actual perpetration of the deed meditated. A better situation than that, however, is for the deed to be done in ignorance, and the relationship discovered afterwards, since there is nothing odious in it, and the discovery will serve to astound us. But the best of all is the last; what we have in Cresphontes, for example, where Merope, on the point of slaying her son, recognizes him in time; in Iphigenia, where sister and brother are in a like position; and in Helle, where the son recognizes his mother, when on the point of giving her up to her enemy. (Poetics book 14)

Freytag on Plot

Freytag's pyramid

Gustav Freytag considered plot a narrative structure that divided a story into five parts, like the five acts of a play. These parts are: exposition (of the situation); rising action (through conflict); climax (or turning point); falling action; and resolution.


The exposition introduces all of the main characters in the story. It shows how they relate to one another, what their goals and motivations are, and the kind of person they are. The audience may have questions about any of these things, which get settled, but if they do have them they are specific and well-focused questions. Most importantly, in the exposition the audience gets to know the main character, and the main character gets to know his goal and what is at stake if he fails to attain his goal.

This phase ends, and the next begins, with the introduction of conflict.

Rising Action

Rising Action is the second phase in Freytag's five-phase structure. It starts with the introduction of conflict.

'Conflict' in Freytag's discussion must not be confused with 'conflict' in Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's critical apparatus to categorize plots into types, e.g. man vs. society. The difference is that an entire story can be discussed according to Quiller-Couch's mode of analysis, while Freytag is talking about the second act in a five-act play, at a time when all of the major characters have been introduced, their motives and allegiances have been made clear (at least for the most part), and they now begin to struggle against one another.

Generally, in this phase the protagonist understands his goal and begins to work toward it. Smaller problems thwart his initial success, and in this phase his progress is directed primarily against these secondary obstacles. This phase shows us how he overcomes these obstacles.

Thus, at the end of this phase and at the beginning of the next he is finally in a position to go up against his primary goal. this part begins after the exposition.It consists of a beginnings of a tension or complication that continues with the development of conflict between the characters.


The point of climax is the turning point of the story, where the main character makes the single big decision that defines the outcome of their story and who they are as a person. The dramatic phase that Freytag called the 'climax' is the third of the five phases, which occupies the middle of the story, and that contains the point of climax. Thus "the climax" may refer to the point of climax or to the third phase of the drama.

The beginning of this phase is marked by the protagonist finally having cleared away the preliminary barriers and being ready to engage with the adversary. Usually, entering this phase, both the protagonist and the antagonist have a plan to win against the other. Now for the first time we see them going against one another in direct, or nearly direct, conflict.

This struggle results with neither character completely winning, nor losing, against the other. Usually, each character's plan is partially successful, and partially foiled by their adversary. What is unique about this central struggle between the two characters is that the protagonist makes a decision which shows us his moral quality, and ultimately determines his fate. In a tragedy, the protagonist here makes a bad decision, which is his miscalculation and the appearance of his tragic flaw.

Falling action

Freytag called this phase "falling action" in the sense that the loose ends are being tied up. However, it is often the time of greatest overall tension in the play, because it is the phase in which everything goes most wrong.

In this phase, the villain has the upper hand. It seems that evil will triumph. The protagonist has never been further from accomplishing the goal. For Freytag, this is true both in tragedies and comedies, because both of these types of play classically show good winning over evil. The question is which side the protagonist has put himself on, and this may not be immediately clear to the audience.


5th -In the final phase of Freytag's five phase structure, there is a final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist, where one or the other decisively wins. This phase is the story of that confrontation, of what leads up to it, of why it happens the way it happens, what it means, and what its long-term consequences are.

Other views

Besides the classical view of plot, there are other ways of looking at it.

A 1950's era writing instructor, Foster-Harris, said that plot is an emotional problem caused by two conflicting emotions being felt by the same person (the main character), and the working-out of that conflict. His system for creating popular fiction is compatible with, but distinct from, the classical understanding of plot. In particular, his focus is not on analysis but generation: not how to write criticism about existing plots, but how to create one.,[1] 1960, p. The basic elements of plot (Story) can be understood quite simply as Character, Conflict, Complication, Crisis-Climax, and Resolution. Change is an important element but it is inherent the actions proper.

'Bold text'==Plot outside of drama==

The plot of the book is the setting. It tells where and when the story takes place. So remember, the plot is the setting.

Plot devices

A plot device is a means of advancing the plot in a story, often used to motivate characters, create agency or resolve a difficulty. This can be contrasted with moving a story forward with narrative technique, that is, by making things happen because characters take action for solid, well-motivated reasons. As an example, when the cavalry shows up at the last moment and saves the day, that can be argued to be a plot device; when an adversarial character who has been struggling with himself saves the day due to a change of heart, that is dramatic technique.

Familiar types of plot devices include the Deus ex Machina, the MacGuffin, and the Red Herring.

Plot outline

A plot outline is a prose telling of a story to be turned into a screenplay. Sometimes called a one page (one page synopsis, about 1 - 3 pages). It is generally longer and more detailed than a standard synopsis (1 - 2 paragraphs), but shorter and less detailed than a treatment or a step outline. There are different ways to create these outlines and they vary in length, but are basically the same thing.

In comics, a pencil, often pluralized as pencils, refers to a stage in the development where the story has been broken down very loosely in a style similar to storyboarding in film development.

The pencils will be very loose (i.e., the sketch rough), the main goals being to lay out the flow of panels across a page, to ensure the story successfully builds suspense and to work out points of view, camera angles and character positions within panels. This can also be referred to as a plot outline or a layout.

See also



  • Obstfeld, Raymond (2002). Fiction First Aid: Instant Remedies for Novels, Stories and Scripts. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 158297117x. 
  • Foster-Harris (1960). The Basic Formulas of Fiction. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ASIN B0007ITQBY. 
  • Polking, K (1990). Writing A to Z. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0898794358. 

External links

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